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Narrative Therapy: the form of psychotherapy based on stories about the patient's life

Narrative Therapy: the form of psychotherapy based on stories about the patient's life

October 28, 2020

Surely you have noticed that, depending on the way in which a story is explained to us, we value in one way or another the characters that intervene in it and judge in a different way the nature of the problem raised in these narrations.

Works of fiction as Rant: the life of a murderer or the movie Memento explore the possibilities through which the narrative form can affect the content of what is being told , the way of portraying the moral background of the characters or even the type of antagonisms that exist in these stories.

However, it is easy to tell a few facts in several ways when the author can hide information about key moments. What happens, however, when the narrator is us? Are we capable of generating and at the same time experiencing the different ways in which we can narrate our lives?


There is a type of psychotherapy that not only responds affirmatively to this last question, but also transfers this potentiality to the core of its therapeutic proposal. Is called Narrative Therapy .

What is Narrative Therapy?

Narrative Therapy it is a type of therapy in which it is assumed that the client (usually called "coauthor" or "coauthor"), and not the therapist, is the expert in the history of his life .

It is also known to be a form of therapy in which the use of letters, invitations and personal written accounts is proposed, both in relation to the client's life and in those things that refer to the course of the therapy, not as way to provide information to the therapist, but as part of the treatment of the client's problems .


Michael White and David Epston, the pioneers of this kind of psychotherapy

This form of therapy was initially developed by therapists Michael White Y David Epston , who made their proposals known internationally through the publication of the book Narrative Means to Therapeutic Ends, although it was not his first work on the subject. Together, they laid theoretical foundations that decades later other people would continue to develop .

Today, there are several proposals for approaching therapy that can be framed within the limits of Narrative Therapy. However, if we want to understand what Narrative Therapy is, we can hardly do it from a description of its techniques. We must also talk about the worldview from which it starts, its philosophical bases.

Narrative Therapy as a result of postmodernity

The postmodern philosophy It has crystallized into different ways of thinking, many of which influence the way in which the inhabitants of Western countries think about reality today. All these thought styles inheriting postmodernity have in common, on the one hand, the assumption that there is different ways of explaining the same thing, and on the other , the of the no single valid explanation . It is assumed that our bodies are not made to perceive and internalize reality as it occurs in nature, and that to interact with the environment we must build by ourselves stories about the functioning of the world.


This is what the thinker Alfred Korzybsky called the relationship between the map and the territory. It is impossible for each one of us to imagine the planet Earth with all its details, and that is why we have to relate to this terrain by creating mental abstractions that can be assumed by our mind: maps. Of course, there are many possible maps that can represent the same area, and although its use may be practical, that does not mean that we know the territory itself.

Narrative Therapy starts from these philosophical assumptions and places the client or co-author of the therapies at the center of the focus of the sessions. It is not a subject that is limited to providing information for the therapist to generate a diagnosis and a treatment program, but rather both work by weaving a useful and adaptive way of presenting the story of the client's life.

Understanding Narrative Therapy

Human beings, as agents that create narrations, we live life through several stories that contradict each other in many points of friction . At one time, one may be more important, and for other aspects, another may be predominant.

The important thing is that, from the philosophical background of Narrative Therapy, there is no narrative that has the power to completely suppress the others, although there are stories that we pay more attention to in certain contexts and given certain conditions. That is why we will always be able to generate alternative stories to explain, to others as well as to ourselves, what happens to us .

For what has been said above, Narrative Therapy proposes a therapeutic approach in which the experiences of the client are challenged and reformulated through the narration of events , so that they are posed in a way in which the problem does not define the person and limit their ways of perceiving reality.

This type of therapy is not sought a way to access "reality" (something inaccessible if we assume the postmodernity postulates), but the possibility of opening the story in which the person is narrating their experiences to generate alternative stories in those that the problem does not "soak" everything. If there is a problem that disturbs the way in which the client experiences his life, since Narrative Therapy is proposed create the possibility that the dominant narrative in which the present conception of the problem is installed loses prominence in favor of other alternative narrations .

The externalization of the problem

In Narrative Therapy, ways of relating the problem as if it were something that, in itself, does not define the identity of the person are enhanced. This is done so that the problem does not become the "filter" through which all those things we perceive pass (something that would only feed the discomfort and make it perpetuate in time). In this way, By externalizing the problem, it is introduced into the narrative of the person's life as if it were one more element, something separate from the person itself .

This objective can be achieved through the use of a externalizing language. By linguistically separating the problem and the conception that the person has of himself, the latter has the power to express stories in which the experience of the problem is experienced differently.

Narrative thinking

The narrations are the placement of a series of events narrated in a time frame so that they make sense and take us from the introduction of a story to the resolution of it.

All narrative has some elements that define it as such: a specific location, a time lapse during which events take place, some actors, a problem, some objectives and some actions that make history advance . According to some psychologists like Jerome Bruner, narration is one of the most present discursive forms in our way of approaching reality.

Narrative Therapy is born, among other things, from the distinction between logical-scientific thinking and the narrative thinking. While the first serves to bring truth to things from a series of arguments, narrative thinking brings realism to events, by placing them in a time frame and creating a story with them . That is to say: while the logical-scientific thought investigates abstract laws about the functioning of the environment, the narrations deal with the particularities of the concrete experience, the changing points of view and the subjection of some facts to a specific space and time.

Narrative Therapy is ascribed to narrative thinking so that both the therapist and the client can deal with each other's experiences and negotiate between them the elaboration of these specific and credible stories.

The role of the therapist in Narrative Therapy

The client is the maximum expert in their experiences, and this role is reflected in the approach used during Narrative Therapy. It is understood that only the person who attends the consultation can implement an alternative narration to the one that is already living, since it is the one that has direct access to their experiences plus.

The therapist who implements Narrative Therapy, meanwhile, is guided by two main precepts :

1. Staying in a state of curiosity .

2. Ask questions that you really do not know the answer .

Thus, the role of the co-author is to generate the history of his life, while the therapist acts as a facilitator agent posing the right questions and bringing up specific topics. In this way, the problem is dissolved in an alternative narrative.

Other guidelines followed by therapists who work with Narrative Therapy are:

  • Facilitate the establishment of a therapeutic relationship in which your own point of view is not imposed on the client.
  • Actively work to recognize the narrative style that the client makes his story unfold.
  • Ensure that your contributions are designed to be collected and reformulated by the client , not to be accepted simply by this.
  • Accept customer complaints about sessions and not take them as a sign of ignorance or incomprehension.
  • Recognize those alternative narratives in which the problem is losing weight.

The non-blaming of the client

In Narrative Therapy the possibility of narrating an experience in many different ways is assumed (necessarily generating several experiences where before there only seemed to be one), giving the client the maximum power to generate his narrative about what happens to him and not blaming him on the difficulties that arise.

From this approach rejected or closed discourses on what is happening are rejected, and the need to create narratives open to change is underlined , flexibility that will allow the person to introduce changes, give importance to some facts and take it away from others. It is understood that where there is a feeling of guilt originating in therapy, there is a perception of not knowing how to adapt to a narrative thread that is given from the outside, which means that the client has not been involved in his generation.

summarizing

In short, Narrative Therapy is a framework of relationships between therapist and client (co-author) in which the second It has the power to generate alternative narratives of what happens to it, so as not to be limited by its perception of the problems s . The theory related to this therapeutic approach is prolific in methods and strategies to facilitate the appearance of these alternative narratives and, of course, its explanation far exceeds the claims deposited in this article.

I invite you to, if you think this topic is interesting, investigate on your own and start, for example, by reading some of the works that appear in the bibliography section.

Bibliographic references:

  • Bruner, L. (1987). Life as Narrative. Social Research, 54 (1), pp. 11 - 32.
  • White and Epston (1993). Narrative means for therapeutic purposes. Barcelona: Paidós.
  • White, M. (2002). The narrative approach in the experience of the therapists. Barcelona: Gedisa.

What is NARRATIVE THERAPY? What does NARRATIVE THERAPY mean? NARRATIVE THERAPY meaning (October 2020).


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